Bush Requests Less for Threat Reduction Program

Daniel Arnaudo

After Congress bumped up the budgets for a number of nonproliferation programs for countries in the former Soviet Union in its 2008 appropriations bills, the Bush administration has requested less money in a number of cases for fiscal year 2009.

The reduced requests reflect in part a continuing trend of winding down nonproliferation programs in the former Soviet Union, while in some cases expanding their scope to new countries. Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), who authored legislation with then-Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) establishing the Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) program in the early 1990s, recently suggested that Congress should augment this shift by granting the executive branch greater flexibility to allocate money quickly to address short-term needs, such as the planned dismantlement of North Korea’s nuclear facilities.

Department of Defense

The president’s budget request includes $414 million for the Defense Threat Reduction Agency’s nonproliferation programs in the former Soviet Union for the next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1. This figure was less than the $426 million Congress appropriated for the current fiscal year, but still higher than Bush’s $348 million request of last year.

The funding requests for several other programs within the agency are down from current spending, including the Strategic Offensive Arms Elimination program, which decommissions or eliminates Russian missile stockpiles, silos, and other related equipment. The president’s budget proposes $80 million, down from $91 million appropriated by Congress for the current fiscal year.

The request for nuclear weapons storage security was down to $24 million from $45.5 million appropriated for fiscal year 2008, reflecting the completion of an automated inventory control management system and a Far East training center. The efforts created a computerized accounting system for nuclear weapons elimination and trained security staff for weapons of mass destruction facilities in eastern Russia. The administration’s request for nuclear weapons transportation security rose from $38 million appropriated last year to $41 million, reflecting increases for nuclear weapons transportation and railcar maintenance and procurement.

The president’s budget request does not propose funding the Chemical Weapons Destruction Program. A chemical weapons destruction facility at Shchuch’ye in Russia would be the beneficiary, but it has been plagued by contractor and construction difficulties, which caused the administration to remove funding for the project from its fiscal year 2007 and 2008 budget requests. Last year, Congress allocated $1 million to the program as a placeholder, but thus far the problems have not been resolved, and millions would be required to complete the project. (See ACT, May 2007.)

Responding to earlier proposals from Lugar, the administration upped its budget request for the Biological Threat Reduction Program to $184 million, which would be a $26 million increase to last year’s appropriation.

Department of Energy

The Department of Energy’s semi-autonomous National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) also requested less for nonproliferation work worldwide than the current fiscal year’s appropriation. Even after Congress approved increases for the current fiscal year to give the international nuclear materials protection and cooperation account $624 million, the NNSA’s request for fiscal year 2009 was only $430 million.

Most of the additional funding that Congress approved for the current fiscal year is going to the Second Line of Defense (SLD) initiative, which increases security at borders and at “megaports” through new radiological screening equipment, training, and technical support at key transit points. The NNSA requested $212 million for the initiative in its fiscal year 2009 request after Congress appropriated $267 million for the effort for the current fiscal year.

The NNSA requested $32 million for security upgrades to the Rosatom (Russian Atomic Energy Agency) Weapons Complex at seven closed Russian cities. The request for the cities, which are responsible for nuclear weapons and materials storage, represents a significant decrease from the $79 million appropriated for the current fiscal year. The NNSA noted that selective upgrades agreed to by Presidents George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin in Bratislava, Slovakia, in 2005 were continuing. (See ACT, March 2005.)

Work to upgrade security for Russia’s Strategic Rocket Forces (SRF) and in its 12th Main Directorate, the military organization with responsibility for nuclear munitions, is also winding down with $53 million requested, after Congress appropriated $121 million for the current fiscal year. The NNSA plans to complete upgrades to all nine 12th Main Directorate nuclear warhead sites and provide sustainability upgrades for 25 SRF sites.

The account request for global security engagement and cooperation, to improve safeguards, strengthen export controls, and support former Soviet scientific communities, was $47 million, $4 million less than this year’s appropriation. The request included $24 million for the Global Initiatives for Proliferation Prevention, which funds the program that supports former Soviet weapons scientists and was recently the subject of a critical Government Accountability Office report that claims the program needs better oversight (see page 37).

The request for the treaties and agreements line item calls for the only increase in the nonproliferation and international security section, $15 million to help support the Next Generation Safeguards Initiative, which would fund roughly a dozen studies on preventing nuclear terrorism and supporting international safeguards. The research would aid programs such as the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership and the Proliferation Security Initiative and also provide technical and policy support for the denuclearization of North Korea.

The funding request for the elimination of weapons-grade plutonium production is $141 million, $39 million less than the current fiscal year appropriation. This program aims to replace two nuclear reactors in Seversk, Siberia, with a fossil fuel plant.

The funding has been cut because the reactors, which produce weapons-grade plutonium, are supposed to be shut down in December 2008. A Feb. 1 NNSA press release said that Rosatom head Sergey Kiriyenko had informed Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman that work on the two plutonium reactors is ahead of schedule and that they are expected to cease operation early. Last December, Russia reported that it had started up a boiler and steam turbine generator at the partially completed fossil fuel plant. This has allowed the reactors to operate under an alternating mode, enabling one reactor to shut down while the other is running and thus generating only half as much plutonium.

The funding request for the Global Threat Reduction Initiative, which eliminates or protects nuclear and radiological material, was $220 million, increased from $193 million appropriated in the current fiscal year. Of that amount, $116 million, increased from $68 million appropriated in the current fiscal year, would go toward the repatriation of nuclear and radiological material to Russia and the United States from the rest of the world. A separate $54 million request for the protection of this material in the United States and the former Soviet Union represents a decrease of $47 million over the same period.

Department of State

Funding requested for nonproliferation, anti-terrorism, demining, and related programs rose to $499 million from $483 million for the current fiscal year, with slightly higher numbers for nonproliferation-related programs. The Nonproliferation and Disarmament Fund (NDF) program would receive $40 million, up from $33 million appropriated, and Global Threat Reduction would receive an increase from $57 million to $64 million.

In a Jan. 30 speech at a conference organized by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, Lugar suggested that Congress should grant the executive branch greater authority to provide nonproliferation aid to countries that are normally banned from receiving most U.S. assistance because of legal restrictions, such as sanctions. Currently, only the NDF program has such “notwithstanding authority,” but Lugar said this authority should be extended to other threat reduction programs.

Lugar cited the case of North Korea as a particularly likely example of a situation in which, absent a legislative fix, sanctions might block the opportunity for achieving important nonproliferation goals. The United States has imposed a range of sanctions against North Korea, such as those in the 1994 Glenn Amendment, that would prevent nonproliferation-related assistance activities being carried out in the country. (See ACT, January/February 2008.)

“Granting Nunn-Lugar ‘notwithstanding’ authority would not mean that Congress would be unable to adjust or restrict the program,” Lugar said. “But it would ensure that Nunn-Lugar would have the ability to respond rapidly to new nonproliferation opportunities. We should not allow bureaucratic inertia to impede potentially historic transformations in North Korea or elsewhere.”